Classical Music: Sweetly tentative among the crags of time

Bruckner, Mozart Lso/Davis Barbican, London Mozart lsco/Josefowitz Queen Elizabeth hall, London
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The Independent Culture
LAUNCHING THEIR new season at the Barbican on Wednesday, Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra played Bruckner's Sixth Symphony and Mozart's last Piano Concerto, K595, with Radu Lupu as soloist. Of Bruckner's mature symphonies, the Sixth is probably the least familiar - less emotive than its neighbours, and with a finale that is robustly cheerful.

It was here that Davis's shaping hand was most evident, in subtle adjustments of speed and easing the beginnings and endings of sections. But if he was sure of how he wanted the finale to go, and always made it sound natural, the first movement by comparison seemed less clear and even incompletely realised, partly because Bruckner's counterpoint was less transparent, less clearly balanced than it might have been, and partly because Davis took a passive view of the music's craggy, rhythmic character.

The opening of the Concerto was much more up his street, and he clearly enjoyed tracing a seamless, singing line with an air of smiling beneficence. This suited Radu Lupu to a tee.

No one could deny that Lupu made a lovely, warm sound, and while he kept the volume down noticeably on his first entry, his tone still seemed full and carried well. Beautiful tone quality and the kind of phrasing that has no abrupt corners suited a work which is above all fluent and mellow, but Lupu's tendency to minimise dynamic contrasts and to slide precipitately into phrase endings, as if their features had been worn smooth by time, came to have a soporific effect.

He was markedly conservative in adding embellishments and fleshing out those passages that Mozart left a bit bare, expecting pianists to supply what was needed, but that is probably erring on the right side, and some of the details that Lupu did supply seemed like sweetly tentative suggestions - a long way short of his aptly powerful projection in Mozart's own cadenzas.

Mozart's C minor Piano Concerto, K491, is a more dramatic and moody piece than K595, but under the limp conducting of David Josefowitz it was not surprising that the London Soloists Chamber Orchestra sold it short at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Thursday.

In the circumstances, the young pianist Ashley Wass played impeccably - not only stylishly, but also with subtle, expressive shading and lovely liquid tone quality.

Josefowitz set a tempo for the final variations that was almost unmanageably fast, but Wass survived its hazards, adjusting the speed in the final section a bit too much, as if in reproof. His Sunday morning solo recital at the Wallace Collection on 8 November is something to look forward to.

After the interval, an even younger soloist, the 15-year-old Alexander Sitkovetsky, made a fine job of Mozart's D major Violin Concerto, and projected with great confidence, but the rest of this all-Mozart concert was a rather dispiriting affair, for though the band boasted a good deal of youthful talent and an unusual number of pretty girls, the direction was sadly uninspiring.

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